Hunting out Hidden Hydrogen: Novel Holey Nano-sheets for Detecting Hydrogen Gas Leaks

By December 11, 2020 5   min read  (861 words)

December 11, 2020 |

fuel cells works, hydrogen
  • Scientists develop hydrogen sensors with holey zinc oxide “nanosheets” to prevent accidents from hydrogen gas leaks

In recent years, hydrogen (H2) has emerged as the best option for clean energy in our pursuit of an alternative fuel for mitigating environmental problems such as global warming.

Novel Holey Nanosheets for Detecting Hydrogen Gas Leaks

Hailed as “batteries of the future,” H2 fuel cells are touted as the fuel for the future generation. While this is all well and good, there is one major problem with H2: like every other gas fuel, it is highly explosive. A minor spark can set off an explosion in the presence of as low as 4% of H2 leaked into the air, as had happened in May 2019 in Gangneung, Korea, and June of the same year at the Uno-X fueling station in Norway. Therefore, safety is a major concern with handling of H2 gas; this warrants the sensing of even the smallest H2 leaks to avoid accidents.

While detectors for H2 leaks are available, they require high temperatures to operate (such as the metal-oxide semiconductor-based gas sensors) making them expensive, short-lived, and dangerous to use for detection of an explosive or flammable gas. They also suffer from low sensitivity due to a lack of enough active sites for gas detection (such as zinc oxide [ZnO] “nanosheets”). Scientists, therefore, have been busy developing sensors that can overcome these limitations.

In a new study published in Sensors and Actuators: B. Chemical, a team of scientists from Incheon National University, Korea, have come up with a novel room temperature H2 sensor design that makes use of nanometer-thin “2D” sheets of zinc oxide filled with nanometer-size holes and is aptly named “Holey 2D nanosheets”. “Ordinary ZnO nanosheets have low sensitivity due to self-restacking that blocks the active sites for gas detection. Holey 2D nanosheets get around this problem with the holes opening up blocked active surfaces,” explains Dr. Manjeet Kumar, who led the study.

The scientists thermally “treated” ZnO nanosheets at three different temperatures (400°C, 600°C, & 800°C) to tune their hole density, fabricated H2 sensor devices from these samples, and recorded their response to different levels of H2 and other gases at 100 ppm (parts per million) gas concentration at room temperature. The team also investigated the validity of the “metallization theory,” which suggests that the underlying sensing mechanism is due to a semiconductor-to-metal transition, in which ZnO gets “reduced” to Zn metal under exposure to H2 gas.

They found that the ZnO nanosheet treated at 400°C (ZnO@400), with the maximum number of holes, showed the highest response towards 100 ppm of H2, along with the fastest response time of ~9 s. Furthermore, ZnO@400 also displayed high repeatability and stability of approximately 97-99% after 45 days. Finally, they found the experimental evidence to be in support of the metallization theory.

These results strongly suggest that 2D holey ZnO nanosheets possess remarkable physical/chemical properties that can potentially revolutionize gas sensing performance in the future. Dr. Kumar surmises, “Room temperature H2 sensors will play a key role in future technology, especially with the emergence of Internet of Things. Our holey 2D ZnO-based sensors will enable implementation of innovative H2 detection devices that can detect gas leakage at an early stage and can be integrated with smartphones and smartwatches,”

With a vision of a bright H2-powered future ahead of us, this technology goes a long way in ensuring a “safe” path to materializing this vision!


Authors: Manjeet Kumar (1),Vishwa Bhatt (1), Joondong Kim (1), Ashutosh C. Abhyankar (2),Hak-Jun Chung (3), Kulvir Singh (4), Young Bin Cho (1,5), Young Jun Yun (5), Kwang Soo Lim(5), and Ju-Hyung Yun(1)

Title of original paper: Holey Engineered 2D ZnO-nanosheets architecture for supersensitive ppm level H2 gas detection at room temperature

Journal: Sensors and Actuators: B. Chemical

DOI: 10.1016/j.snb.2020.128839

(1) Department of Electrical Engineering, Incheon National University
(2) Department of Materials Engineering, Defense Institute of Advanced Technology
(3) Energy Conversion & Electric Component, Korea Electronics Technology Institute
(4) School of Physics and Materials Science, Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology
(5) Materials Evaluation Team, Korea Testing & Research Institute

About Incheon National University

Incheon National University (INU) is a comprehensive, student-focused university. It was founded in 1979 and given university status in 1988. One of the largest universities in South Korea, it houses nearly 14,000 students and 500 faculty members. In 2010, INU merged with Incheon City College to expand capacity and open more curricula. With its commitment to academic excellence and an unrelenting devotion to innovative research, INU offers its students real-world internship experiences. INU not only focuses on studying and learning but also strives to provide a supportive environment for students to follow their passion, grow, and, as their slogan says, be INspired.

About the author

Manjeet Kumar is a research professor at Incheon National University. He received his Ph.D. from the DIAT-DRDO, Pune, India, in 2016. He completed his MTech degree in 2009 from Thapar University. From 2009 to 2010, he worked as a project associate at IIT, Delhi. His research interest includes chemical and physical processing of metal oxides, such as nanowires and functional thin/thick films for sensing applications, and the study of interaction mechanisms at gas-solid interfaces.

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